After playing multiple games this season in which Northwestern State “guarded down” against smaller teams, the roles will be reversed Tuesday when the Demons head to ULM for a 7 p.m. game.
NSU (2-3) will see a Warhawks team (2-2) with six players standing at least 6-foot-8, including 7-foot-1 center Chris Efretuei.
The Demons had to stay in front of smaller teams like Centenary and Louisiana College, but coach Mike McConathy hopes his squad can create the same problem for the lengthy Warhawks.
“I’m hopeful we can be as effective against ULM as Louisiana College was against us because they were so much smaller,” McConathy said. “ULM had beat (Louisiana College) handily earlier in the year, and coach (Keith Richard) does a great job.
“He’s beefed up their lineup, but they also have guys who shoot extremely well on the perimeter. They are extremely talented and execute so well.”
One Demon who won’t mind facing larger opponents is junior forward Larry Owens.
Owens, a Monroe native who checks in at 6-foot-7, 300 pounds, said he’s excited for the challenge of battling the trees back in his hometown.
“It’s going to feel good to go back home and play in front of people who know us as a whole,” said Owens, a star at Carroll High School just across Highway 165 from ULM. “ULM is a good team with a lot of height, and I’m ready for the challenge.
“I’ve played against a lot of smaller people, now I’ll be playing against people my size or bigger, and that’ll help me.”
Owens, who has improved his midrange game in the offseason, is shooting 60 percent from the field in his 10 minutes per game, and most expect his impact to increase as better matchups against larger post players are on the horizon.
Wossman High product C.J. Jones had help collapse on Owens during one of Monroe’s fiercest high school rivalries with Carroll High, but Jones has become close with Owens as teammates.
Jones, a primary point guard starter the past two seasons who has a pair of starts this year, has anticipated the Demons’ return to Monroe all season.
“It’ll be a great feeling to play in front of friends and family that hadn’t seen me in a long time,” said Jones, whose father Casey played at ULM and averaged nearly 10 points and six assists as a senior under coach Mike Vining. “ULM’s advantage is its size, but ours is quickness, and we’ll try to beat them up and down the floor.
“I’ve been working on staying aggressive on the break, and as defenses attach more to our shooters, that’ll open up space for the point guards.”
Owens and Jones are two of just five Demon upperclassmen with Division I experience entering the season.
“It’s always important to have Louisiana players, and going home will be a big deal for them,” McConathy said. “C.J. didn’t play in the Rice game (not by design), but he responded extremely well and worked hard on things we talked about him needing to do.
“Larry gets extra work and will continue to do so. He has a high ceiling. Both of these guys are integral parts to our program, and we’ll need them at the tops of their games.”
As freshmen, Owens and Jones helped NSU to a 76-61 win in Fant-Ewing Coliseum in 2017-18. ULM returned the favor this past season, topping NSU 80-52. The road team in this series has recently had the upper hand, winning 11 of the last 17 games.
One potential key Tuesday could be NSU starting quickly on the road.
The Demons have built solid leads in the opening minutes in four of their first five games.
Those leads include scoring the first eight points against Rice, building a 7-3 lead at Texas A&M and an 8-4 edge at Tulane.
While the Demons have had a six-day rest to recalibrate from the early season, ULM hasn’t played in 12 days, coming off a loss at Mississippi State.
“This is one of the best schedules we’ve ever had because it allows you to correct things we’re not doing well,” McConathy said. “We were able to settle down after not playing well against Tulane and fighting to beat Louisiana College, but we got to work on improving things we weren’t doing well.
“We rebounded well early but hadn’t rebounded well in the last couple of games. As for ULM’s (break), 12 days is a long time, but I know that Richard maximized every day, and I don’t think it’ll effect their edge.”
ULM is one of nine Louisiana opponents the Demons will face this season. NSU is 2-1 against in-state foes this season, topping Centenary and Louisiana College and falling to Tulane.
Photo Credit: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services